Stakeholders react to forex restriction on food items
• No Specific Imported Food Item Without Alternatives — Prof. Obatolu
• Will Make Importation Expensive, Not Impossible —Daramola
• Capable Of Triggering Food Crisis—Oyekoya
Following fresh advisory by the Federal Government on restriction of foreign exchange (Forex) on food imports, there is growing concern that the policy might create scarcity for some ‘all-important’ food items.
Just last week, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, at the opening of a two-day retreat for ministers’ designates and top government officials said the authorities would also not renege on the Presidency’s directive to stop issuing forex for food imports.
Emefiele said: “If we have a food item that could be produced in the country, why should we waste scare foreign exchange importing those items into the country, when those can be produced in the country?”
Some of the items earlier listed as ineligible for Forex are-rice, Palm kernel/Palm oil products/vegetables oils, meat and processed meat products, vegetables and processed vegetable products, poultry chicken, eggs, turkey, tinned fish in sauce (Geisha)/sardines and tomatoes/tomato pastes, among others.
There are concerns, especially among the organised private sector, agro commodity experts and other stakeholders in the food industry that the policy, which has already created ‘price riots,’ due to the country’s inability to produce enough of the restricted foods, is capable of paving way for those with access to forex to dominate the market and inflate the price.
There is also an argument on the need by the CBN and Federal Government to consider waivers for some category of food items, considered as ‘inevitable’ for the overall interest of the country.
For instance, there are food items that are essential for health reasons or others which the climatic conditions of the country does not favour their growth in commercial quantities. Like wheat, which is part of diet of diabetes.
Researchers theorised that replacing white rice with whole grains could possibly lower the risk of diabetes by as much as 36 percent, but currently the country solely depends on importation to meet the high demand.
Executive Director, Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Ibadan, Oyo State, Veronica Obatolu, a Professor of Human Nutrition, told The Guardian, that there is no specific food item that must be imported for nutritional or health reasons that does not have alternatives within the country.
“For example, imported potato, rice, milk, various meat types will serve same nutritional purpose as our same local food staple crops and our meat and dairy products. Fruits like mango, orange, watermelon, pineapple and velvet tamarind come at different seasons of the year to provide the body with the vitamins and minerals and give same micro nutrients that are needed for well-being and healthy life, as imported apple, vine fruit grape, pears and so on.”
Founder of Menitos Farm Depot, Toluwalope Daramola, said she is not aware of any food that is health reliant and affected by the restriction, adding that the affected foods are mostly imported cereals and baby foods, for which the country have local equivalents, so she does not see problems with the restriction order.
“If they can ascertain that the absence of any imported food is directly linked to failing health in the country then I guess that should be classified as “food meds” or something close because every food has its health benefits. So, a unique tag is needed to identify such foods and exempt, but I honestly doubt such.”
While describing the restriction as a good move, Daramola, however, said the approach is too pedestrian, as those who currently buy imported foods can afford the temporary increase in price till the free trade deals takes-off and makes them more accessible.
“Personally, it just makes importation more expensive, not impossible. What most Nigerians don’t know is how much fruits and food are imported. A country that imports up to N22b worth of food yearly cannot expect forex ban to do more than slow it down.
“There is nothing imported that can’t be homegrown in Nigeria. Even the so-called foreign apples are grown in Jos. If we were a viable economy, there is no food or fruit we can’t produce if our environment was indigenous-investment friendly.
“In fact, I would rather discuss ban on all things produced locally, by the time we are done, you would wonder why we allow any edible to cross our border in commercial quantities. Every product has an indigenous alternative, a trial could convince.”
She noted that there is need for government’s support and protection, in form of stiffer laws and policies to avoid getting “run off our own lands in the name of international trade.”
However, farmers are expressing mixed reactions to the development. The former chairman Agric, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI),
Prince Wale Oyekoya said the development is capable of triggering the long awaiting food crisis.
“The restriction, supposed to favour the farmers and citizens, but in the long run it will cause chaos and price riots because those who have access to forex will dominate the market and inflate prices of the goods.
To Prof. Obatolu, with the development, she said it is expected that farmers will increase their acreage to increase production of basic food items and so increase availability.
“However, food security has two ends, at one end is the availability of adequate supply and at the other end is the concern for adequate nutrition and wellbeing. Hence, attaining a workable economic diversification in Nigeria will persist to be a vision without adequately nourished and healthy people.”
Daramola who advocates of a 10-year closed economic system said: “We grow these crops, so let’s focus on increasing internal capacity to meet demand. What happens when the production capacity of the countries we are importing from drops, is that when we’ll look inwards?
“As long as we have the natural resources to grow them, let’s input the human and technology know-how to increase capacity. Importation only makes a dependent nation of us.”
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